12 August 2006

Huong Viet - heaven in North London!

Should I start ranting about Ikea on a blog which is largely devoted to food? Perhaps a better way of looking at it is "is any blog complete if it doesn't include a rant against Ikea?" Like most of the nation, we've had one of their "Billy" design bookcases for several years, been impressed by its durability, and when we recently moved house decided we wanted one of their "Billy corner bookcases" to attach to the existing one. As ever with Ikea, whatever you want, you can't have (think how many things you own from Ikea, then think how many of them you actually wanted when you walked into the store, against how many you bought because they didn't have what you wanted or because you were hopelessly lost in their warehouse and grabbed something in a random panic attack and made a run for it...) Anyway, it turns out the wretched Billy corner bookcase is being discontinued, and the search had already taken us on fruitless visits to Lakeside and Croydon (not in the same evening, naturally - even Colleen couldn't bear that) before we resorted to eBay. I find eBay particularly sadistic - "you have "won" this bookcase that you've been looking for for weeks......and your reward is nice Tuesday evening drive to Enfield to collect it". Great. A quick glance of the map brought salvation. The route between Rotherhithe (home) and Enfield is straight up the A10, and just off the A10 is, in my opinion, the best value restaurant in the whole of the capital. Huong Viet, on Englefield Road, offers Vietnamese food of such quality at ludicrously low prices to put the whole of Chinatown to shame. If you don't live nearby, then you probably don't have much call to visit this part of London, but it's well worth going out of your way for. And don't be put off by the exterior. Set in the Vietnamese cultural centre and with only a small black and white sign to identify it, it has, quite possibly, the most unappealing exterior of any restaurant in London (the first time I went I did a double-take because I thought the building was derelict). Even when you cross the threshold you're met with closely-packed tables, a random assortment of plastic chairs and paper tablecloths bearing the spillages of the previous customer. Smoking is still permitted (well, it prides itself on its authenticity...), but the moment you get your first dish from the lengthy menu, you'll forget it all. We had 3 starters between two of us, then shared a sea bass (I seem to remember Matthew Norman waxing lyrical about this a while back) and finished off with a palate-cleansing salad. All were superb, with fresh herbal and spicy flavours to the fore - starters were "zingy" crab cakes, a wonderfully fresh cold "spring roll"-type offering, with prawns , basil and beansprouts wrapped in a rice-flour pancake, and beef wrapped in betel leaves, all served with different, complementary sauces. The bill? About 33 quid, including drinks. Service charge? Nope. Did they get one? You bet they did.

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